August 27, 2011

Rest In Peace, Jack Layton...

As I write this, we are staring at the TV with most of Canada, watching the state funeral for Jack Layton, the Canadian Parliament's Leader of the Opposition. There are lots of tears, and spontaneous applause. I can't remember the last time we had a state funeral in Canada. Hell, I can't remember the a time when the TV networks agreed to play nice and share coverage.

Mr Layton was a fighter for the common man, to to use a cliche, who tried to make the country a better and more humane place. He passionately fought for the homeless, for health care, for equality, for the environment, and for the many disadvantaged communities in this multi-cultural nation.

The groundswell of discussion and emotion and love and admiration across Canada since his death has been both touching and unprecedented. Only when Princess Diana died can I remember an outpouring like this one.

All this love, and this man was not even our elected leader. Well, we actually don't like our elected leader very much. But that's a whole other subject.

I remember when I was living in Toronto and Mr Layton was our city councillor. He was a bold and caring man of the people. A socialist in the good way. And a perfect choice to be the conscience of our federal government, which desperately needs one. But that's a whole other subject.

Mr Layton, or Jack as the whole country called him, had been battling cancer for the second time, and was on leave, so he knew that death was coming. His heartbreaking and inspiring goodbye letter has been much quoted this week. It is a manifesto for social change. Here's the amazing final passage (you can read the whole letter at

Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Jack was an ally and supporter of the gay community for decades, and I think he was the first politician I saw march in a pride parade. He took on LGBT issues like marriage equality long before it was popular to do so. His last public appearance was at Toronto’s gay pride parade. I can't think of anything to add to the tributes and tears, so here's the video he recorded for last year's It Gets Better campaign to support bullied youth:

Rest in peace, Jack....


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